Sunday, March 6, 2016

so ya, thought ya, might like to go to the show

Once again, Mrs. Pincus scored some free tickets. This time, she got four seats to a Wednesday evening performance of Pippin, the Tony Award-winning musical that recently enjoyed a revival on Broadway. The touring company of Pippin was stopping at Philadelphia's esteemed and opulent Academy of Music for eight performances wedged into four days. Although I love going to concerts, I am not a fan of live theater, musical or otherwise. But, I am a fan of free tickets, so Mrs. P met me after work and after a quick dinner, we made our way over to the Academy which is just a few blocks from my center-city office.

I've mentioned previously on this blog, that I love old movies. Some of the old movies I love are musicals, including Oklahoma, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Best Foot Forward and Singin' in the Rain, to name just a few. But, there's something about watching a musical on stage that just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the overly dramatic style that is so prevalent in stage productions. I don't like the exaggerated dancing and flamboyant gesturing. Yeah, I understand that performers were encouraged to project and enunciate to reach the folks in the last row of the highest balcony, but, these days, actors' voices are electronically amplified. They're wearing tiny microphones taped to their cheeks. They don't need to sing — nay screech! — at the top of their lungs. Yet, they do anyway.

We arrived early and stood in the small entrance area waiting for the doors to open. Other patrons gathered as well and, soon, the golden doors swung open with the help of a smartly-uniformed usher on the other side. The slightly larger (though still small) lobby was outfitted with a bar at either end and a makeshift merchandise table, already announcing that the soundtrack CD was sold out. This was only the second night of performances. I guess that's good for them, although, for the life of me, I didn't know a single song from Pippin. Not that I am an expert on Broadway musicals, but I know a few songs from a few shows. I asked my wife if Pippin was the one that featured "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord"?

She answered, "No. That's Godspell."

"How about Day by Day?," I pressed.

"No. That's Godspell, too.," she replied.

She's the same age
as your grandma.
Well, I was fresh out of songs with which to associate the show I was about to see. In my defense, Stephen Schwartz composed both Godspell and Pippin, so I wasn't really that far off. Actually, the only things I knew about Pippin was it originally starred the multi-talented Ben Vereen and Irene Ryan, fresh off her nine-season run as "Granny" on The Beverly Hillbillies. Ryan had performed the role of Pippin's feisty grandmother until she suffered a stroke on stage and was hospitalized. She passed away six weeks later. Outside of that, everything I was about to see would be a surprise.

At the front of the lobby, between the two massive theater entrances, there was a large sign that listed the players for this evening's performance. Most of the names were unfamiliar, until I spotted John Rubinstein. I knew the name from the mid-70s TV drama Family, a show that made Kristy McNichol a household name. Turns out, John originated the title role of Pippin on Broadway and was now playing the character's father. A little further down the list was Adrienne Barbeau, the lovely costar of the controversial All in the Family spin-off Maude. Adrienne played star Bea Arthur's staunch feminist daughter "Carol." Although I hated the show, I watched it. I watched it for the same reason every teenage male watched it — and that reason was Adrienne Barbeau. She was a voluptuous 27 year old at the show's premiere and joined the ranks of Farrah Fawcett and Lynda Carter as TV sex symbols. Later, she made her motion picture debut in then-husband John Carpenter's atmospheric popcorn thriller The Fog. She followed that as part of the ensemble cast of Escape from New York, once again under the direction of Carpenter. Never one to take herself too seriously, Ms. Barbeau's campy tour de force came in the horror anthology Creepshow, a movie that poor Mrs. Pincus watched for the first time through fingers laced across her tightly-clenched eyelids. Adrienne played Hal Holbrook's shrewish spouse who, after a series of imagined slaughters at the hands of her henpecked husband, finally gets her blood-soaked comeuppance. There! — is that sufficient gushing about Adrienne Barbeau? Needless to say, I'm a fan.
"Just call me 'Billie.' Everyone does."

We had to take a tiny elevator up to the level where our seats were. We filed into the darkened third balcony and made our way down the narrow aisle to row E, where we (thanks to extra tickets) were able to stretch ourselves and our bulky winter coats across four seats. From our vantage, the theater was beautiful! White lacquered wood trim, deep red velvet seats, regal gold accents topped with dramatic gold statuary. The stage, however, was a small, distant speck, skirted by, what I thought was a collection of children's dolls, but turned out to be the orchestra.

We perused the Playbill until the lights blinked and dimmed and the show began. The opening number, "Magic to Do" (which, I admit, I had to look up because I forgot, as I did all of the musical numbers), kicked things off. It was everything I hate about Broadway musicals. It was loud, with overly-theatrical gestures and a paper-thin, yet unnecessarily convoluted story, bolstered by dancing and jumping and tumbling and actors trying to out-act each other, even walking into the audience at one point. The next two and a half hours progressed in much the same way. Was it horrible? No, not really. Was it unforgettable? Hardly. Was it entertaining? Sure! The current incarnation of Pippin has been enhanced with Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics and elaborate stage illusions that didn't exist in its initial run. Was I glad the tickets were free? You betcha!

About midway through the first act, Pippin's grandmother was introduced. As "Berthe," Adrienne Barbeau looked stunning in a form-fitting bustier. She displayed the same irresistible exuberance that she did at the beginning of her career, sending everyone in the theater to secretively "Google" her age. She is 70 and she brazenly defies that age. (Am I gushing again?) Incredibly, Irene Ryan, who originated the role, was also 70. Apparently, "70" was different in the 70s. Not content with just belting out her featured solo with a strong, bravado-filled voice, Adrienne doffed her flimsy outer robe and joined a muscular young man ten feet above the stage, where she was inverted, her shapely legs entwined around her spotter's torso. She sang the last verse of her song while swinging upside-down, to the delight of the entire house. May I reiterate — this woman is 70! Of course, my seat was approximately six miles from the stage, yet from my perspective, Ms. Barbeau has still got it.

When it was all over, Mrs. P and I left the theater, braving a wicked downpour that was atypical for late February in Philadelphia. We hustled through what was essentially a car wash to the train station to head home. As we rode on the train, we talked about the show. I decided, while it was indeed entertaining, it certainly wasn't memorable. But, it was free.

The next day, in true celebrity-obsessed, Josh Pincus fashion, I left a message on Adrienne Barbeau's Facebook page, referencing her overbearing character in Creepshow. Within minutes, I can only assume while grabbing a few moments of rest in her Philadelphia hotel room, Ms. Barbeau replied. I rightfully interpreted a sly tone into her reply.
(click to enlarge)
Obviously, she's a good sport. (End gushing.)

1 comment:

  1. I love musicals. I wish I knew how to score free tickets too. Good for Adrienne. She'll be my inspiration :)